Donkey Assisted Therapy; a key to the psychosocial development of children with disabilities

Animal Assisted Interaction is increasingly becoming an emerging developmental modality for individuals suffering from psychosocial disorders.  This is particularly becoming relevant to children with disabilities. Children who never spoke a word for years have spoken to a donkey. Those who always felt marginalized learned to develop trust. Donkey facilitated interaction sessions, for disabled children, provide learning opportunities that includes their peers and the natural environment. These happen while grooming donkeys, feeding, leading, walking together, as well as observing and learning about donkey‘s natural behavior.

Cheshire Services Ethiopia is a premier disability rehab centre in Ethiopia which has transformed the lives of over 50,000 disabled children in its 70 years’ service. The centre has been looking for ways of boosting its rehabilitation programme through Animal Assisted Interaction. That is when The Donkey Sanctuary joined forces with Cheshire to realize the dream. In 2014, Cheshire in collaboration with the Donkey Sanctuary launched Donkey Assisted Therapy (DAT) program as one segment of the developmental approaches used in the Managesha Disability Rehabilitation Centre, situated at the west side of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Ever since DAT was introduced into the rehab programme, life has become much easier for both social workers and children at the rehab centre. Reducing children’s psychosocial distress and helping them to communicate with the outside world has been a challenge, but the donkeys have become a a catalyst for this. Children invariably interact with donkeys irrespective of their condition, language or culture. The children are presented to Menagesha Rehab Centre with problems of polio inflicted club feet, congenital anomaly such as cerebral palsy, burn injuries and amputees. The children have benefited from DAT, via positive donkey human interactions, by learning critical life skills. Life skills are acknowledged by the World Health Organization as being important skills that enable children to deal with the demands and challenges of everyday life and promote positive socialization of children, invaluable for them when they rejoin their communities. See success stories of Anguach and Dawit at the Managesha Rehab Centre.

Anguach, a 17 years girl says she learned love and care from donkeys. She was in distress and not willing to interact with children and people around upon admission. After six months in the therapy centre, she became highly interactive, friendly and confident. She gave the credit to DAT sessions and donkeys (see Anguach and Fikir (donkey) . 


                                                                                                               Anguach and Fikir 


Dawit is a 16 years boy. He states that donkeys helped him to forget his anger and fear. He likes to groom donkeys, stroke and feed them. He said, ‘I did not have friends for I thought people did not respect or love me. Through the donkey interaction sessions, I leant how to love people and become good friends to others. Now I am a different person, I love and trust people (see Dawit and Muddy (donkey).

Donkeys and disabled children share common life challenges; both marginalized and misunderstood by the community: Kindred spirits. Cheshire’s motto states disability is not inability. Working Donkeys remain as invisible helpers to humans, women in particular, at all times. The Donkey Sanctuary and Cheshire Services Ethiopia are ideal institutions to complement each other where both donkeys and children with disabilities can benefit from each other. The shared benefits are more profound; when both are left together alone in a physically and psychologically safe space, where they can maximize the interaction and thus mutual trust. It proves that donkeys have much to provide to humans.